NUNN'S THEATER HABIT
A Recipe for Disaster crashes into Windy City Playhouse
Thu. October 21, 2021 12:00 AM
by Jerry Nunn
A Recipe for Disaster is just what the title says in many ways. Things have changed for Windy City Playhouse and this production in a post-pandemic world. The usual venue for the theater production company on Irving Park Road is now in the lower level of Petterino's, 150 N. Dearborn Street, in the newly reopened banquet space.
The troupe had previously found a niche with immersive theater productions with big success in the past. They were hoping to rekindle that with celebrity chef Rick Bayless' new project A Recipe for Disaster!
The story surrounds a restaurant called The Contumacious Pig on influencer night and the staff encountering a series of mishaps. Ticket holders enter the space on the south side of Petterino's then descend a staircase to see the show. There the crowd waits for the show to begin and drinks can be ordered beforehand at the bar.
Emma Jo Boyden plays Shelley who starts off with problems involving the dinner for the special night. When the influencers arrive things grow steadily worse at the restaurant. Carley Cornelius as influencer Kiki is especially good with her grasp of everything that irritates people on social media.
The rest of the cast struggles a bit with the assignment. Daniel Trinidad as Felix needs more homework on the background of his character. There's definitely a story about how busboys and service staff are mistreated, but it is not depicted well here. His reactions go well beyond just ludicrous behavior and move into to over-the-top buffoonery. Adding acrobatics throughout the piece should be wistful and fun. It is instead tedious and doesn't make much sense in this situation. Not having an intermission makes the time drag even more, but luckily patrons can visit the bathroom freely as long as they don't block a performer's path.
The writers describe this show as a "farce," but that doesn't allow the character to get away with anything. Spectators need some sense of realism to ground the plot, but instead are served overcooked acting.
Bayless knows food and some of the menu is quite tasty as it is delivered during the night. Nondrinkers beware as several dishes contain alcohol, including a trick that was definitely not a treat. A yellow armband is given to designate those that would not like to be served liquor, but the staff was in such a hurry the night I went that they didn't notice and alcohol was still dropped off. Water was a luxury at this meal and presented in a very small glass with no refills. Everyone in the industry knows water is a basic so this was a surprise to see. The chairs and couches were not comfortable for patrons to sit on and views were tricky with the actors constantly moving about.
The plot is simple and well conveyed, but many will leave some hungry for more sustenance. The roasted dates were excellent and the Maryland crab pasta was delicious. There are vegan options, although many won't trust the vegetarian bacon served later in the evening. Dietary restrictions are asked at the entrance and the current pandemic protocol was followed during press night.
The timing is bad for A Recipe for Disaster as many don't want to be startled and stressed out these days. There is so much chaos going on in the world that some will have a stomach ache after experiencing this immersion. For those of us that have worked in the service industry, the play is especially traumatizing to see. It's a subject that is relatable, but in this case, needs some workshopping.
Bayless is rumored to be difficult to work for with his high expectations. Hopefully, he can take some time to revamp the show and be tougher on the cast. He could possibly return to acting as he did successfully in Cascabel for Lookingglass Theatre Company. A Recipe for Disaster needs to start from scratch with fewer cooks in the kitchen next time out.
A Recipe for Disaster is currently on sale at WindyCityPlayhouse.com until December 26.